Last week I talked about creating marital expectations on love. This week we’ll be exploring how to establish the most important marital expectations about family. You and your (future) spouse may come from similar backgrounds. Or your families may be as different as night and day. Either way, your relationship with your families will affect your relationship with each other…whether you like it or not. So why not clear the air from the beginning and talk it out?
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Expectation #2: Family
Andrew and I come from very similar backgrounds… both our parents are still married, we each have a sibling of the opposite sex, were raised in suburbia, and wanted for very little. However, even with our almost identical upbringings we still had different expectations and values placed on us, our traditions differed, and the most obvious difference of them all…our parents and the marriages they modeled for us were distinct. Therefore, our experiences and history with our families are uniquely our own. This is both beautiful and frustrating. You will be surprised just how much influence someone’s rearing and family can have on your relationship. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV).
During our dating Drew and I read Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Dr. Gary Chapman. This is probably one of my favorite pre-marital books that we read prior to getting engaged. We learned a lot from this particular book, but Dr. Chapman focuses on two great points regarding family: our behaviors and characteristics in and outside of marriage are/will be greatly influenced by our parents, and you don’t just marry your spouse, you marry into an entire family. The book covers a wide array of other topics as well, most of which I am touching on in this series: How to Establish the Most Important Marital Expectations.
The Big 3
In regards to familial expectations, I think there are three main topics to be discussed:
- Time spent with family
- In-Laws and their influence
Before I begin discussing each area of family expectations, let’s address the elephant in the room…not everyone has a “traditional” family. However, hopefully you or your spouse didn’t grow up completely alone. There were people in your life at some point, and no matter what that looks like (i.e. foster parents, extended family, teachers, social workers, etc.) these relationships or lack thereof influenced you in some way. Also, think about your personal experiences and events that may have made a considerable impact in your life. I encourage all couples to seek pre-marital counseling in or outside a house of faith. Although, if this area of discussion is more difficult for you or your (future) spouse to wade through don’t be afraid to seek a professional opinion. With that said, let’s commence with the topics.
Time Spent with Family
In my relationship, we are both very close to our parents and live in close proximity to both sides. Making this a good topic of discussion for us to have. However, if one or both of you live in different states or even countries than your parents and/or extended family this may be less of a hot topic.
It’s very important to me that I spend time with my parents. So I usually try and see them 2-3 times a month. I would say Drew also sees his parents with similar frequency. However, when we got married, we had to have crucial conversations about seeing our families. Considering our semi-untraditional work schedules, friends, church, and having our own quality time it’s easy to get overwhelmed by commitments. There will be certain seasons that you and your mate have more or less time to spend with others. It’s also tempting, especially during the newlywed phase, to alienate yourselves from others. It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in each other and your new relationship. The main point is this, if family is important to one or both of you discuss your expectations for seeing your families, while contemplating your personal priorities and each other.
In-Laws and their influence
Whoever you grew up with (ie. mother, father, foster parents, extended family) their actions and behaviors have and will influence you. Knowing this, my mate and I decided to list perceived pros and cons of our parents together. For example (note: this is not reflective of my family or Drew’s):
|Family X||Family Y|
|Community-Focused||Alcoholism in past||Spirit-Filled||Manipulative|
By doing this we brought to light potential good and bad characteristics that may manifest in our marriage. You can’t plan for everything, but simply being aware of potential problems can make a major difference. Keep in mind that you won’t marry your spouse, and then overnight they’ll turn into their father (or mother). Behavior that has been modeled may not manifest until you have children, purchase your first home, or go through another major life event. Also noteworthy, is how much input you allow parents to have in your relationship.When you marry it’s important to understand that your spouse is now the number one person in your life after God. Parents and their opinions must come second. Click To Tweet
When you marry it’s important to understand that your spouse is now the number one person in your life after God. Parents and their opinions must come second. It may be hard to “cut the cord”. However when we marry “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” Genesis 2:24 (NLT). It is imperative for the health of your marriage that you both let go emotionally and financially. I’m not saying never take advice from parents, but create safe boundaries that don’t hinder your new relationship’s growth.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, New Year’s…everyone loves the holidays! However, with the excitement also comes anxiety, stress, travel arrangements, and lots of planning. Like I mentioned before, when you marry you don’t just marry your spouse, you marry their family too. Most families have at least one holiday tradition, and along with traditions come lots of expectations. Before or soon after marrying it’s a good idea to talk to your partner about how you both plan to spend the holidays, especially if travel is involved. Below I’ve put together some thought-provoking scenarios for you and your significant other to go through.
Perhaps you all spend Thanksgiving with your in-laws, and Christmas is at your family’s home then flip-flop the following year. Try to spend time with both families when you can, and be sensitive to your parents, in-laws, and extended families, this may be new for them too.
Imagine his family has a big cook-out every Labor day, but your family goes to the lake. Be willing to compromise, and sometimes you may even have to forfeit your desires for the sake of the relationship.
It may help to prioritize holidays based on favorite traditions, proximity, affordability, work obligations, and family health conditions. For example, if your mother has been diagnosed with cancer it may be more important to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family, because it may be the last you spend with her.
As important as holiday traditions are, sometimes it’s more important to establish your own rituals as a new family. Don’t forget to make room for your marriage in the midst of the holiday chaos. Be sure to respectfully and lovingly create boundaries with your families. Don’t feel guilty or bad about wanting to make new memories of your own at times. As long as you communicate effectively, your new family dynamic should flourish.
It’s a Family Affair
Family is a multi-faceted topic of discussion in marriage. Sometimes it’s delightful, other times it’s messy. However, it’s important to remember that balance is the key. Always prioritize your (future) spouse and your marriage. While honoring your parents and family. You all may not always agree, but with God’s love and grace, you all can overcome any challenge.Always prioritize your (future) spouse and your marriage. While honoring your parents and family. You all may not always agree, but with God's love and grace, you all can overcome any challenge. Click To Tweet
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
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With lots of love,